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Parashat Sh’mini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47)

“…This is what the Lord had commanded that you do,

that the Presence of the Lord may appear to you.” (Leviticus 9:6)

It is surprising how often things go wrong in the Torah.  Parashat Sh’mini describes the eighth day of the ordination of Aaron and his sons as High Priests when the very first sacrifices are offered on the altar in the mishkan, or Tabernacle.  It is an exquisite moment of high drama and great expectations.  There is no rejoicing, though, because Nadav and Avihu, two of Aaron’s sons, deviate from the script, offer “alien fire,” (Leviticus 10:1) and are consumed themselves by God’s fire.

The Torah is fairly laconic about the event, leaving a lot of leeway for interpretation about what alien fire means, why the punishment is so harsh, and why Aaron makes no response.  The Torah states, “And Aaron was silent,” (Leviticus 10:3).  Classic commentators read Aaron’s silence as acceptance of God’s judgment.   Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director of the JCC in Manhattan, offers a different reading, replacing “silent” with “speechless.”  Confronted with something beyond his comprehension, Aaron has no words to explain.  Filled with emotions beyond description, Aaron has no words to describe.  Immersed in his own private experience, Aaron has no words to share.  Aaron is not accepting; he is dumbfounded.

The Torah chooses its words with great care; it’s fair to say it chooses its silences with equal care.  Aaron’s silence is all the more eloquent when set against the din of the non-stop commentary culture of today’s wired world.  Silence is not necessary only a reaction; it can also be a powerful communication skill.  Sometimes saying nothing says the most.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

David

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